Saturday, November 22, 2008

Arrogant homosexual judge criticized from the Left

NSW Attorney-General John Hatzistergos has staged an extraordinary attack on High Court judge Michael Kirby, describing recent comments as unnecessarily provocative and profoundly wrong. Mr Hatzistergos took aim at the outgoing judge's support for a charter of rights and his claim last week that the tenure of judges should be limited to 10 years. While the conservative side of politics has often taken aim at the judge, the comments represent perhaps the first time that a Labor politician has taken aim at "the great dissenter". "Justice Kirby has said a lot of things in recent time that I don't agree with," the Attorney-General said.

Mr Hatzistergos's federal counterpart, Robert McClelland, said he welcomed Justice Kirby's views, but Mr Hatzistergos warned that the judge was on dangerous ground.

"I think it is important for judges to be able to make contributions to public discourse," Mr Hatzistergos said. "They have tremendous capacity to be able to provoke debate on issues that are important to us as a society. "But I think -- particularly if they are serving judges -- that entry into debates that might lead to criticism of themselves may also reflect adversely on the court. I think people need to be circumspect and be sure the balance is properly struck. "I don't agree with the views of His Honour in regard to a use-by date for judges. I think that was unnecessarily provocative. "I think there are a number of judges who have been outstanding and who have served the court for a very long period of time and if I may say so, with respect, that he is probably one of them."

Justice Kirby said last week: "Ensuring change and turnover, fresh ideas and a reflection of the values of different generations, is a vital aspect of a dynamic and open-minded final national court."

Mr Hatzistergos said he favoured giving judges different experiences over the "blunt instrument of termination".

Mr McClelland described Justice Kirby as a highly regarded and well-respected judge. "However, the Government has no plans to change the current term arrangements for the High Court," Mr McClelland said.

The NSW Attorney-General also said he disagreed profoundly with Justice Kirby's support for legislative protection for human rights, whether in a bill or a charter.

Mr McClelland has declared his support for a charter and the Government has set aside $2.8 million for public consultations on how best to protect rights.

"His Honour is profoundly wrong," Mr Hatzistergos said. "Frankly, it's not his role to legislate. He doesn't have the mandate. No one is ever elected judge to be able to go out there and institute social change and that's what a bill of rights effectively does. "We have democratically elected politicians with the capacity, the mandate, the authority, the skill and the experience to be able to reflect the values of the community and distil those into legislation. "The judge's role is to interpret and apply the law of the legislature. It is not to be make it up as they go, the way they would like it to be."

Justice Kirby must retire on turning 70 on March 18 next year, but is widely tipped to hand in an early resignation to allow his replacement to take his seat in the court at the start of the legal year in February.


Mufti of Australia vows to end segregation in mosques

Rather surprising. He is of Lebanese origin and is a Sunni

AUSTRALIA'S most senior Muslim has said he will end segregation of men and women in mosques, in a bold response to Islamic women's anger at entrenched discrimination. The Mufti of Australia, Sheikh Fehmi Naji el-Imam, said he would put his proposal to the next meeting of the Australian National Imams' Council and consider how women could share the room with men during prayers.

Sheikh Fehmi said segregated worship had been introduced long ago, as a cultural change, not a religious one, and he would argue to end it. "It is good to hear the complaints of the sisters, and to try to find some solution to their concerns," he told The Age in an exclusive interview. "My duty is to propose, to discuss and try to convince. I can't guarantee the outcome." Sheikh Fehmi said that in the time of the Prophet Mohammed 1400 years ago, women were not segregated.

His announcement is likely to attract international attention and may spark fierce debate among highly conservative mosque communities within Australia. In some mosques overseas, there are no physical barriers between men's and women's areas but in Australia almost every mosque separates men's and women's sections.

Sydney lecturer Jamila Hussain this week told a conference at the National Centre for Excellence in Islamic Studies that women found facilities at some mosques "insulting" and that they were treated as second-class citizens. Last night, Ms Hussain welcomed Sheikh Fehmi's promise to try to end segregation. "It's an excellent start. But I'm a bit hesitant about when or whether it will happen - it will be a while." She said many men would oppose such a move and, sadly, some women too. Imams didn't necessarily have much say.

Islamic Council of Victoria vice-president Sherene Hassan said it was a fine initiative, and it was good to see imams being proactive. She said it was in line with true Islamic teaching. Sheikh Isse Musse, imam of Werribee mosque, agreed that at the start of Islam men and women had prayed together, "but it's not allowed that a man stands to the right of a woman or to the left of a woman". At his mosque, all pray in the same room, with men in rows at the front, then children in rows, then women. But he did not think this was palatable to many Muslims, especially as many new mosques gave better facilities to women in their own areas.

Several Muslim women spoke out about discrimination and disadvantage this week at the conference. In particular, a report by the Islamic Women's Welfare Council of Victoria highlighted problems with imams, claiming some were condoning domestic violence, polygamy, rape in marriage, welfare fraud and exploitation of vulnerable women.

Sheikh Fehmi, who is also secretary of the Victorian Board of Imams, acknowledged there were problems. "Imams are human beings, and every human being is fallible, so if one imam errs on a point we should not generalise and say all imams are the same." Sheikh Fehmi also addressed many of the criticisms in the council report. On divorce, he said the committee of the Victorian Board of Imams that dealt with applications always spoke to both parties before ruling, and required men to give women their full due, especially dowries that had not yet been fully paid.

On rape within marriage, he acknowledged this could be a problem and said the solution was to link legal divorce with Islamic divorce - something the board was working towards.

On domestic violence, he said imams taught that men should never strike their wives. "The prophet said, 'I never hit a wife in my life', and everybody should do the same." On polygamy, he said Islam allowed a second wife only if the husband guaranteed he could treat both exactly alike, which almost amounted to a prohibition. "Polygamy in Islam is not willy-nilly. There are a lot of restrictions, which sometimes make it impossible."

On a charge by educator Silma Ihram that Muslim women could speak out in the mainstream community but not in the Muslim community, Sheikh Fehmi said women should "tell us what they are going through. That's the only way we can rectify mistakes and wrongdoing." He said that if Muslims received unsatisfactory advice from an imam, they could consult another imam or the board of imams.

Ms Hussain said this week that provisions for women and children in mosques lagged far behind men's. In most mosques, men entered the prayer room through large front doors, but women usually had to enter a small door at the rear, often competing with traffic while leading small children. Their space was always considerably inferior to the men's, and was sometimes entirely blocked off so that they could not see or hear the service. Ms Hussain, who studied Sydney mosques, said that in some, women had to pray in the yard under a blazing sun while men enjoyed the cool interior, or to pray in a kitchen between stoves and sinks, or to pray in a tent in full view of a pub over the road.

The chairwoman of the Islamic Women's Welfare Council, Tasneem Chopra, said Sheikh Fehmi's response made her optimistic that better outcomes could be negotiated. She said she had not received much critical feedback from the Muslim community yesterday, but a lot of questioning.


Secretive public broadcaster

As a founding member of Australia's Right to Know Coalition, the ABC has been leading high-minded lobbying efforts to make governments transparent and comply with freedom-of-information laws the way legislators originally intended. But when it comes to its own affairs, the national broadcaster closes up as tightly as the most obstructionist bureaucracies.

Take this latest example involving a Four Corners profile of Malcolm Turnbull in the dying days of Brendan Nelson's Opposition leadership. The leader-in-waiting refused to be interviewed, but there were enough glimpses of a testy Turnbull to suggest he had strong views about the show. To test that thesis, and to see if he had shared his opinions with the ABC, we submitted a FoI request seeking access to correspondence from Turnbull complaining or criticising the program. The ABC confirmed existence of an unspecified number of documents but refused to release them. It did not argue particular letters were exempt but instead relied on an obscure part of the FoI Act which says the ABC and SBS are exempt from the whole act "with respect to documents in relation to its program material".

When the act was written a quarter of a century ago, that section was included so the ABC was not flooded with people requesting access to tapes of interviews and transcripts and other journalistic material genuinely used to make programs. Fair enough. But it's a huge stretch to classify letters of complaint from Turnbull, who refused to even be interviewed by Four Corners, as "program material". Plenty of agencies release such letters. John Howard released scores written by Alan Jones when the Herald sought them under FoI, so too did Bob Carr along with many of his ministers. But not the ABC.

To understand why the ABC can ignore most FOI requests, you need to go back to 2006 after journalism students from the University of Technology, Sydney, had taken the broadcaster to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal for refusing their FoI request. The students wanted to see complaints about the ABC's Middle East coverage and the tribunal said they should have them as they were not program material. When SBS got a similar request, it handed them over. But the ABC went to the Federal Court. It won. It got a decision so broad almost any document can now be classified as relating to program material.

That decision has since been demolished by Ron Fraser, the former principal chief legal officer in information access in the Attorney-General's Department. In an erudite article for the Australian Journal Of Administrative Law Fraser went right back to the Senate standing committee report to demonstrate legislators never intended to give the ABC this sweeping exemption. Fraser highlights the court's misunderstanding, and laments the fact the decision was not appealed, but it looks set to stay. But if ABC managers want to be taken seriously in their calls for more government transparency, they should start applying the same standards they expect from every other government agency.


Corrupt Leftist politics in NSW

No wonder NSW is in an economic mess

Is the NSW Government totally dysfunctional or is it just suffering from a series of disconnected unfortunate events? The list of events is long and often reads like a series of episodes from a television soap drama. A minister is jailed for being a pedophile. He abused boys in his ministerial office yet his closest staff members deny any inkling of his behaviour. Another minister is stood down over allegations of abusing restaurant workers and another for abusing his staff. These are just some stories emerging from the NSW Government at its highest level.

Below this level, other stories constantly appear. A transport union safety fund receives about $700,000 from the Government. The transport union gives a similar amount to the Australian Labor Party. A senior union official demands and receives from the Education Department lists of apprentices and employers in breach of privacy laws. The union then approaches employers demanding apprentices become union members. Senior judges caught for traffic offences pervert the course of justice to hide their offences.

At the local government level bribery and sexual favours determine who receives town planning approval for development projects. The developers see this as normal business requirements in NSW. Systemic bribery is revealed in a state transport department. People caught paying the bribes plead that if they didn't bribe, they wouldn't win jobs.

Maybe there's just a lot of bad people doing bad things in NSW. Surely we can assume the system of government remains solid and honest? Unfortunately, this is not the case. The overload of scandal is in fact endemic and reflects the functioning of government itself. The problem is bigger than just bad individuals. It's a problem created by the culture of the labour grouping that runs NSW. It's embedded in the institutions and processes that administer NSW. It's enforced by the laws of NSW. It affects everyone living in NSW. It's the factor causing NSWto descend into deepening economic recession when the rest of Australia is managing reasonably well.

Before the problem can be fixed, it needs to be understood. NSW Labor is not just a political organisation. It's a bigger machine than the ALP and elected parliamentarians. It is a complex web of interconnecting, personal relationships built around families, friends and associates. Its obvious core membership comes from unions. But it extends to selected lawyers, academics, business representative bodies, investors and business people. It's a large but tight group.

Ordinarily, extended networks are the lifeblood of political groups in healthy democracies. But there's something special about how NSW Labor has institutionalised its network, which makes it uniquely powerful and corrupt.

First is the culture. NSW Labor networkers live in a time warp, obsessed with the idea of class warfare. They imagine that employers are evil by nature. They fantasise that they are the guardians of good against evil. This bonds them, giving them their justification for power. They allow business to function but only those businesses that comply with the Labor machine. They relentlessly try to crush businesses that are defiant.

What makes this culture so powerful is that it's given legal sanction through the NSW industrial relations system, which is unique in Australia. Orders of the NSW Industrial Relations Commission cannot be appealed. It overrides the authority of the High Court and NSW civil and criminal courts. Unions are its authorised enforcers, with search, seizure and prosecution powers exceeding that of the police, tax and business regulation authorities. This is the law in NSW. The legal powers are all reaching beyond normal industrial relations matters to controlling commercial prices in the transport sector, overriding commercial leases and dictating who can tender for government work. It controls construction work through agreement setting and links into town planning processes.

What is alleged to be an industrial relations system is in reality a legal mask for the delivery of power to NSW Labor. It's awesome in its reach. It's so powerful that it part-neuters Australia's competition watchdog, causing the competitive business environment in NSW to be corrupted. Normal business regulation is overridden by the necessity to conform to the Labor machine.

It has taken total control of the administration of government in NSW, such that the parliamentary ALP is a government in name only. This was demonstrated by the effective sackings of premier Morris Iemma and treasurer Michael Costa. More significantly, the public service is controlled through a vast number of oversight committees on which only NSW Labor machine members sit.

The Labor committee and network process effectively controls the NSW government budget. Reforms to the transport, education and health systems are frozen because any reform threatens vested labour interests within the organisations. Great wealth has been delivered to some inside players. Important NSW-based businesses depend on the system for their market power. Individual fortunes have been built on it.

It's a power frequently reflected in the arrogant behaviour and even swagger of those at the top of the system. This was demonstrated by the recent union raid on the desalination plant construction site under the cover of ministerial inspection. Here the Labor machine is furious that a government-funded construction site is not NSW union controlled. The site is subject to federal, not NSW, industrial relations laws.

This entrenched and unelected power structure in NSW assaults the very fundamentals of good society. The failure to prosecute a union-owned labour hire company following the work-site deaths of three of its employees demonstrates how destructive of justice is this labour network. What's happening in NSW is that many individual acts of corruption are being exposed. The state's Independent Commission Against Corruption is swamped with work. But the ICAC's powers do not extend to the systemic cause of the problem. Corruption, dysfunctional government and the declining economy of NSW are all products of a Labor culture disconnected from normal moral reasoning. Its extreme power is made possible because it has a mask of legal authority.


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